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YHRadio: Elliott Sadler throws out a challenge to those who don’t think race drivers are athletes

NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler was a guest on Yellowhammer Radio earlier this week and made it clear that anyone who does view NASCAR drivers as athletes does not have an adequate perspective of the sport.

It started when Yellowhammer Radio host Scott Chambers referenced some pushback he had received on Twitter for referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as one of the world’s most popular athletes.

Sadler, a three-time winner on the Sprint Cup circuit, responded to the critics by saying, “Anybody that does not think we are athletes, I will challenge them in any kind of sport they want to challenge, other than ice hockey. I’ll play them in baseball, whoever can hit the ball or throw the ball the farthest; a game of one-on-one basketball; who can throw the football the farthest or tackle the hardest; golf, who can hit the golf ball the farthest. Any kind of sport they want to play against me to see if I’m an athlete, they are welcome to. Let me see if they can back up what they’re shoveling.”

Sadler went on to explain that calling them non-athletes is a constant theme, “We hear that all the time about athletes, and we train hard, just like everybody else.”

He pointed out that one thing that hurts the perception of racing is the lack of visibility of the opponent. He noted that in basketball, you can see the other person on the court. In baseball, you can see the opponent in the field. Whereas in racing, all that is seen of the opponent is the car itself. Sadler noted that he played six sports growing up.

“People really don’t know that it’s 150 degrees inside the car where your head is and probably 200 degrees where your toes are. There are no time outs. We lose eight or nine pounds per race,” Sadler said. “Also, we run the cars on the edge a half-inch apart at 200 miles per hour, like we’ll be doing next week at Talladega. It definitely takes hand-eye coordination, but being that you don’t get to see it, you just see the cars on TV, I think changes the perception of people’s views.”

The training that racers have to endure is another rigorous aspect of the sport that Sadler feels is under-appreciated by critics. He went on to discuss how training for the amount of heat that builds in the car during a race is one of the keys to being ready for a race.

“I train different than other athletes. I played a lot of different sports and trained for them too. But, training for a race car, we sit in a steam room a lot. We sit in the sauna a lot, getting your lungs used to breathing hot air,” Sadler explained. “We train in a heated gym, instead of an air-conditioned gym. We wear sweatsuits and stocking-caps. We want our body used to being in hot temperatures because that’s where our workplace is.”

He also said that NASCAR is allowing drivers to use heart rate monitors during the races, which helps them train.

This debate over racing being or not being a sport is one that has dragged on over the decades. There have been articles written arguing why it is not a sport and many making the case that it is. The debate intensified six years ago when NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson won “Best Male Athlete” at ESPN’s ESPY Awards. Elliott Sadler’s description of all that goes into racing on Yellowhammer Radio was one of the best repudiations of the doubters that has been presented. There is clearly enough hard work and training involved in racing cars to qualify the drivers as athletes.

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